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INT: Shia LaBeouf

05.17.2007
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Shia LaBeouf’s made quite a name for himself playing the part of “annoying sidekick” in a variety of roles, most notably in 2005’s tragically overlooked CONSTANTINE. Just recently, LaBeouf starred in DISTURBIA, a surprise hit for the studio, and this summer, he gets to play another leading man – complete with his own love story subplot – in Michael Bay ’s much-anticipated live-action TRANSFORMERS flick. At a set visit a few months ago in downtown L.A. , LaBeouf took time out of his busy schedule of avoiding explosions and getting yelled at by Bay in order to talk to a handful of online journalists about experience making TRANSFORMERS. Check it out.

Shia Laboeuf

Tell us about the role you play.

I play Sam Witwicky, aka Spike.

How does your character interact with the robots?

He’s the liaison between the robots – at least in our script – in a way, he’s the liaison between the government and the robots. Because it’s too outlandish for the government to cling on to, this idea of this alien (invasion), and they’re too close-minded to latch on to it, so they use me as a liaison between the idea of what these things could be and what they actually are.

With the autobots?

Right. Because they make first contact with me because my great great grandfather, Captain Archibald Witwicky, made first contact with Megatron in the 1800s and had – I don’t know if I should be giving this all away.

Yeah, it’s okay.

…had language and maps burned into his glasses through a laser. And the glasses were passed on through lineage. And they wind up with me and me trying to sell them on eBay, as well as his other items – his compass and sextant and other things a 19th century seaman would use. And they come after me to retrieve these glasses, which have the directions to where the energon cube is at.

This is new territory for you.

Yeah, it’s never been like this for me. Especially not with Michael Bay. Michael Bay is the fastest, most intense director I’ve ever worked with. The explosions are right here. They’re not CGI. The other day they had me on top of one of these buildings, one-handed, with a wire here and a wire there. It was insane. But that’s stuff that you usually CGI. And Michael doesn’t CGI. He likes seeing the immediate…he likes being able to go into his trailer and go, “You’re never gonna believe what I just shot.” Rather than have to wait for the CGI to be put into green screen, he likes to see it immediately. Things like explosions are all very real.

Was that the hairiest thing you had to do?

No. I can’t even list what we’ve had to do. I’ve never had to do anything like this. When we did Constantine and I Robot, it was very minimal. Of course there was insane action. I had a shot gun and we were shooting demons, but the demons weren’t there. They were ridiculous men in green suits and codpieces. It wasn’t what this is, which is you actually have a Bumblebee, or it’ll be a pole, but you’ll see Megatron. He’s really there. And they really go for it. It’s just very real. My job is very easy here. It’s very reactionary, as opposed to having to conjure up these fantasies of what I would think it would be, it’s there.

You seem to be the right age to have played for these toys as a kid.

Yeah. For me it wasn’t the comic book or even the toys. It was the movie. Transformers the movie was like, that was my shit. It was that and like Yogi Bear. That was like what I grew up on. Those were my movies and I watched them over and over and over again. I must have seen Transformers the movie 70 times before this was even in…

So what’s it like for you to be in this movie now?

Well, when you see Transformers the movie, Spike is only in like three scenes. Then you find out he’s even more apparent in the comic book. Other than the robots, he’s the only character that goes back. So it’s very rewarding to be here. It’s also a humongous thing for my career, as you could imagine. So on a number of levels it’s very fulfilling to be doing this. Again, it’s a completely different film, you know? My goal at the beginning of doing this was to be as diversified as possible. This fits a part of filmmaking that I would never have been a part of, nor would I have ever thought of myself as being involved in this way. This is always…Ben Affleck has that job, Josh Hartnett has that job, not some Gary Shandling lookalike who…it’s not something you would assume. I didn’t assume that I would ever be sitting with Turturro and Megatron. It’s just a thought that you could ever conjure up.

Last year in Toronto you said you wanted to do more indie stuff…

Well, I have two indies coming out that are…we had a good time at Sundance with A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, which is coming out soon. I have Bobby coming out, which is an independent which has now transformed into this megapic. But I fulfilled my independent…the whole goal of this is to find that balance. You want to create a pop film but not sell out to make a shit pop film. You know, there’s shit pop films and then there’s popular films. This is not a shit pop film. This is a popular film with a following.

This isn’t f*cking Freaky Friday. There’s a huge difference. And the difference for me, at least…if I’m not enjoying the script, I’m definitely not going to enjoy the ride for three months. It’s three months of your life and I’m very impatient. I could definitely be in school and enjoying that side of my life. There’s a reason that I take time out to come and do this. I don’t have to work because I’m financially in trouble. It’s not that for me. I do movies that I want to do. Disturbia – which is another popular film, which is based on Hitchcock. Stuff that I’m interested in.

What attracted you to the project?

You know, the same reason that you guys are into it. The thought of having something like an alien life form be able to take the form of this and transform, it just became more real than, let’s say, E.T. which was this magical figure that came down to earth and you’d never seen anything like it, whereas the Transformers were real. It was very real to me. If you had an imagination, you could sit there and look at a car and go, “Yeah,” and you could conjure up ways that it could transform. It was more real than fantasy for me.

The same thing with Constantine – the reason that you…you do stuff that you love. Like Neil Gaiman, Vertigo, that’s what I love. The Transformers is that other side to me. It’s more popular, yes, but it’s realistic to me. I really think that there is a possibility that you could do some of the shit that we’re doing. I mean, some of it is real. And it’s not like this fantasy, like this alien life form that comes…it doesn’t feel like that to me. It feels like it could really happen.

It’s more tangible?

Correct. It’s more tangible. That’s the word.

Seeing that you’re part of the demographic, did you have more creative input into the decisions?

No. Everybody’s got their job and holds down the fort. I mean, Michael Bay is very…he knows what he’s doing. It’s not like he comes here and then is thinking of shots. He knows specifically…you used to hear stories about how Kubrick used to draw everything and create…and Michael works the same way in that he has these visual effects shots that he created a year ago, that’s the actual shot in animation form. Kubrick used to do these long-hand forms of his film, whereas Michael has already filmed the movie in digital and he’s got all these VFX shots of shit that’s already been conjured.

So in that respect it’s there. It’s not ever questioned. My opinion means nothing as far as that goes. But Michael is very – and I’ve worked with some pretty dope directors – he’s very freeing. “This dialogue sucks!” He takes the page out and throws it away. “Just roll with it.” He’ll let you…he ad-libs more than any director I’ve ever worked for. He literally hires people based on how they can ad-lib. In the auditions it was, “Ok, put the script down and go,” for 20 minutes. Just go with this. When I was auditioning with Megan, 70% of our audition was just riffing. Where can you go?

How can you keep it on the storyline without going in some weird place that’s not helping us? And that’s the way that Mike works. So people say that he’s not an actor’s director and all this garbage and I don’t know. It depends on what kind of direction you want. If you want somebody to be there and be on you, and be the Woody Allen “Cough here and breathe here and sneeze here,” he’s not that. He’s the director who’s just gonna let you go. And so in a sense that is an actor’s director.

What message do you have for Transformers fans?

This is…how do you describe what we’re doing? This is nuts. I’ve never seen anything like it. We’re staying true to a lot of it. But again, you can’t make Megatron a gun. You make Megatron a gun and you’ve gotta have an orange cap, because you can’t make a movie with a gun transforming when you’ve got kids out there killing each other. You can’t publicize a gun like we used to in the 80s, when Megatron was a gun. If you were to make Megatron a gun now, you’d have to put the stupid orange cap and that would ruin Megatron. He’d look like Herbie the Love Bug or some dumb shit. If Bumblebee was a bug, it would be a totally different interaction.

You wouldn’t look at Bumblee and go wow. You wouldn’t do that. You would look at him like he was Herbie. And that’s not what Bumblebee was. We stay true to the tone of what Transformers was. But again, it’s a movie and in movies it’s a different art form. You’re taking on another face. So you stay as true as you can and there are certain things that you do have to extend for the film, such as the human aspect of this. There wasn’t a lot of human interaction in the Transformers movies. It was all about the Transformers. But to just have the Transformers talking would be like the new Ninja Turtles movie. It’s just garbage. Now it’s a Pixar film. That’s not what we’re making. It’s not a Pixar film. We’re trying to make the coolest action film ever. You gotta make it human.

How old is your character? Is he in high school?

Yeah, he’s 18.

And how old are you?

I’m 20.

So yesterday you were hanging off a building. What are you doing today?

Today? I know we’re blowing something up. (laughter) I’m not sure what it is yet. But we’re blowing something up for sure.

What was your personal favorite Transformer?

My personal favorite? Soundwave. And he’s not in this film.

Are you going to be made into an action figure?

I hope not. I don’t know. They can do whatever they want. They have their own contracts and I’m sure Hasbro is gonna try to profit off of it as much as possible, just like any company would. I don’t know.

It’s the goal of the actor to make your presence felt. It’s your job to position yourself and to hold your own and create a character and not just get lost in the dust. It’s your job as an actor to do that. Your job as an actor is to fill in the spaces. That’s my occupation. So yeah, I can’t have Michael thinking about certain minute character intricacies while he’s blowing up that building. His thought is diverted. So it’s your job to control a lot of that and Mike let’s you know that when you start. But I can see how actors can get lost in this, when they’re relying on a director to be emotionally prepared to deal with your intricacies and your mannerisms and how you hold your hand and what pocket you put your juice in. Michael Bay isn’t that guy. He’s not the guy to tell you…Michael Bay is focused on the explosion in the building and the reaction of the crowd and it’s a lot to think about for one person. You expect that.

As an actor, is it hard for you to hold on to what you’re doing when the crap is blowing up?

No. It’s easier when the crap’s blowing up. It’s harder when the crap’s not blowing up and action – “The crap’s blowing up! The crap’s blowing up!” That’s hard for an actor. Or interaction with the robots is tough. It’s difficult to have any kind of emotional connection with Bumblebee when it’s a pole with plastic. But when you’re sitting there and Megatron is built, it’s a different type of performance, because it’s reactionary rather than conjured. Conjured shit is hard.

Since you were a fan of the show, does it mean anything to you that Peter Cullen was cast as the voice of Optimus?

Well, for everybody here that was a big deal. I know what it means to you guys and what it means to the fans. Michael knows the same. But then again you get into performance stuff – who’s gonna bring the better performance? And when you start measuring the original to maybe an update? You have to think about that stuff, you know? If it had been Michael Clarke Duncan, would that have been a better voice in the original than Peter Cullen? A lot of people would say no, but then there’s a fan base that would say yeah. So you have to modernize it. And thank god we got him in because it brings us back to…and we can still modernize the film but still keep some of this historical truth in the voices of the characters. So it’s a big win for all of us and we’re all excited to have him. I haven’t met him yet or been able to work with him.

Are you signed up for a sequel?

Uh, hmmm…yeah, I’m sure there’s something somewhere. I don’t know. I was signed to do sequels for Constantine.

What is going on with that?

Well it’s up to Keanu and where he wants to go. It really comes down to what he wants to do on his slate. If he jumps up and goes, “I want to play John again,” – which I don’t think he will ‘cause that took a lot out of him – I don’t know. He might; he might not. Again, people talk about an "I Robot" sequel. Any movie that makes money, there’s gonna be sequels. They made a Kangaroo Jack sequel, you know what I mean? That’s Kangaroo Jack. They made money. It’s a business. At the end of the day, it’s show business. It’s a business.

Are there any cast or crewmembers that you talk to about the Transformers as fans?

I know Megan is a fan. I know Josh is a fan. I know that Turturro’s son is a big fan. I know John is really into it based on what he’s read. I don’t know if he was a fan previously. But when you’re here and you’re seeing it, you’re a fan. You’re an instant fan. When you see Bumblebee, you can’t not be a fan. When you see the actual Bumblebee standing there, you can’t not be a fan. It’s like seeing Batman’s car. You’re in right away. I’m sold. Boom, there you go. Done.

What does Dane Cook play?

Dane Cook? I think he plays a gas station attendant. It’s a small cameo. But there’s a lot of cameos, you know? The way that Michael works is there’s action, and in the middle of the craziest action there’s a joke. If you watch his films, that’s how he goes. He genre-flips. So there’s a lot of humor with the action. Because we have the humor aspect we bring comedians in. There’s a lot of comedians here.

Any other big cameos?

Bernie Mac’s got a big cameo. I’m sure there’s other people coming in. It changes every day. It’s a big movie, so there’s a lot of people that want to be in it. They might create roles. I’ve heard a lot of names, but I don’t want to throw them out there because I might be wrong and you never know if they might come in or not.

Who’s gonna be the breakout character?

I don’t know. There’s a couple of them. They all have personalities. I don’t know if I could point one out. There’s a bunch of different storylines happening with different robots, but of course it’s Megatron and Optimus. Those are the dudes.

What about the love story?

The love story element humanizes this. It humanizes the story a little bit. Sometimes it gets fantastical when everything’s a robot or everything’s and explosion or everything’s in the Secret Service. People in Iowa want to relate to a character. The love story humanizes the robot storylines.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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5:55PM on 05/17/2007

Like The Beef, But...

"...tragically overlooked CONSTANTINE"??

Hate to break it to you, but that movie is overlooked for a pretty good reason.

It sucked.
"...tragically overlooked CONSTANTINE"??

Hate to break it to you, but that movie is overlooked for a pretty good reason.

It sucked.
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2:03AM on 05/17/2007
Nice interview, smart guy, dont know what all the hate is about he seems to have his head on right and does good work.
Nice interview, smart guy, dont know what all the hate is about he seems to have his head on right and does good work.
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